An Asian woman blue embroidered kimono stands with outstretched arms within the open mouth of a Chinese dragon sculpture. The image is taken from a film still. The still has been captured at night, and the dragon is lit from below.

Lap-See Lam

This major new exhibition by Lap-See Lam (b. 1990) is the first-ever institutional exhibition of the artist’s work in the UK. The commission develops from Lap-See Lam's presentation for the Nordic Pavilion at the 60th Biennale di Venezia, 2024. 

The exhibition will continue a cycle of works inspired by the real setting of the ‘Sea Palace’, a three-storey floating Chinese restaurant in the shape of a dragon. The Sea Palace was commissioned in the 1990s, sailing from Shanghai to Europe and later docking at Dreamers’ Quay in Gothenburg. Facing economic challenges and decay, it was eventually repurposed as a haunted funhouse. 

For Lam, the ‘Sea Palace’ provides knotty and often dissonant source material to address the translation – and mistranslation – of cultural heritage. The artist’s work to date has traced her own family history and intergenerational experiences via the kitschy and decadent decor of Chinese restaurants in Western Europe. Lam’s grandparents established the ‘Bamboo Garden’ restaurant upon their arrival from Hong Kong in the 1970s, and her practice considers notions of belonging by examining the cultural and communal fabric of the Cantonese diaspora. 

At the centre of the exhibition at Studio Voltaire, Lam has produced a new film that unfolds from the ‘Sea Palace’s’ hybrid spaces – at once a restaurant, horror house, and vessel - combining its rich past with magical elements that draw inspiration from Cantonese Opera. Each of the performers within the film enacts a specific story relating to the history and imagined future of the Cantonese diaspora, led by the character Lo Ting, a mythological fish-hybrid figure who is believed to be the ancestor of the Hong Kong people. Relating a transnational sea journey, the work explores intergenerational experiences of separation, displacement and collective memory across oceans.

A specific characteristic of Cantonese Opera is the elaborate structures which are built using bamboo scaffolding to form temporary opera houses and stages. Reflecting this, Lam will create a large-scale immersive installation of bamboo scaffolding within the gallery. This ambitious intervention will both respond to the architecture of Studio Voltaire’s distinctive chapel gallery and form a setting for the film itself. 

Relating to a transnational sea journey, the artist’s new series of works explores separation, displacement, and collective memory across oceans.

Floating Sea Palace opens at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto on 21 September 2024, as part of an exhibition organised and developed in partnership with The Vega Foundation.

Floating Sea Palace is co-commissioned by Studio Voltaire, The Vega Foundation and The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. Produced in partnership with Moderna Museet.

This exhibition is commissioned and produced by Studio Voltaire, supported by The Ampersand Foundation, The Henry Moore Foundation, and the Lap-See Lam Exhibition Circle. Studio Voltaire’s Programmes are core funded by The Studio Voltaire Council. Studio Voltaire’s Exhibitions programme has received support from Cockayne – The London Community Foundation.

  1. Lap-See Lam was born in Stockholm in 1990, where she lives and works. The artist has been invited to create the idea and framework for a Gesamtkunstwerk at the Nordic Countries Pavilion for the 60th Venice Biennial. The artist Kholod Hawash from Finland and the composer Tze Yeung Ho from Norway are working alongside her. 

    Recent solo exhibitions include Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Buffalo NY; Swiss Institute, New York City; Portikus, Frankfurt am Main; and Lidköping Konsthall, Sweden (all 2023); Bonniers Konsthall (2022); Trondheim Kunstmuseum (2021); Moderna Museet Malmö (2018–2019); and Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2022, 2018).

    Lam was the winner of Dagens Nyheter Culture Prize in 2021 and a recipient of the Maria Bonnier Dahlin Foundation Grant in 2017. In 2021 she was shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize, and was nominated for the Ars Fennica Award 2023.

  2. Lap-See Lam, The Altersea Opera, 2024. Film still: Lisabi Fridell/Egerstrand&Blund. Textile work © Kholod Hawash. © Lap-See Lam. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Nordenhake and Moderna Museet.

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